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Mitchell v. Mills

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 10, 2018

ARTHUR MITCHELL, Plaintiff-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas

          Before JOLLY, SOUTHWICK, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.

          E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge.

         Danny Mills and Dennis Chartier, the defendants-appellants, were each mayors of the City of Naples, Texas, at times when the plaintiff was employed by the City. Arthur Mitchell, the plaintiff-appellee, is an African-American man who claims that the defendants paid two specific white employees at a higher rate than he was paid, in violation of Mitchell's constitutional right to equal protection of the law. The defendants claimed qualified immunity, which the district court denied. The defendants appeal this denial. We reverse.



         Mitchell is an African-American man employed as a "City Worker" by the City of Naples, Texas (the "City"). He works in the Public Works Department ("PWD"), which handles water, sewer, and street maintenance for the City. The PWD includes a Water Department and a Street Department. Mitchell is assigned to the Water Department. Mitchell's responsibilities include monitoring wells, checking lift stations, cleaning the sewer plant, reading water meters, and clearing debris from the roads. Along with the supervisor of the Water Department, Kenneth Stacks, Mitchell also repairs water and sewer leaks, which is a "huge part" of the job. Mitchell's prior experience, before working for the City, includes plumbing, electrical maintenance, commercial driving, and operating forklifts. Based on his prior experience, until recently, Mitchell handled plumbing and electrical issues for the public library, the community center, and the PWD's shop. Additionally, Mitchell is the only employee with a commercial driver's license and thus the only employee who can drive the City's dump truck.[1]

         The defendant Mills is the former mayor of the City. The defendant Chartier is the current mayor. Mitchell filed this wage-discrimination lawsuit against Mills and Chartier (the "defendants"), under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants paid him less than two[2] comparable white coworkers (the "comparators") on account of Mitchell's race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[3] Although Mitchell sued the defendants in their official and individual capacities, only Mitchell's equal- protection claim against them in their individual capacities is before us on appeal.

         We turn now to describe the record facts concerning the comparators.


         Lloyd Davlin is Mitchell's first alleged comparator. Davlin is employed in the Street Department. He is the "Street Superintendent" or "Street Supervisor." Although he works in the Street Department, Davlin shares some overlapping duties with Mitchell. For example, he and Mitchell take turns cleaning the sewer plant. But Davlin's responsibilities also include supervising and planning street projects, calculating material needed for those projects, and arranging to obtain materials necessary for street projects. Importantly, Davlin is authorized to operate the City's motor grader and lay-down machine. Employees in the Street Department are required to possess skills and experience in operating street-related heavy equipment, including a motor grader (to cut the appropriate grade for the street) and a lay-down machine (to apply asphalt to the roadway). When he first came to work with the City, Davlin had over twenty years of experience at a private mining company, including experience operating heavy machinery such as a motor grader.

         Dwayne Heard is Mitchell's second alleged comparator. Although Heard's job title is disputed, it is undisputed that Heard was Davlin's predecessor in the Street Department and had essentially the same job duties and skills as Davlin, set out above. As is the case with Davlin, Heard shared some overlapping duties with Mitchell. Heard, however, also had more than twenty years of prior experience in the operation and maintenance of a variety of heavy equipment, including a motor grader, and an extensive background in construction. Heard used that experience during his brief four-month employment with the City, which occurred some four-plus years before Mitchell filed this lawsuit. Additionally, Heard was a certified welder, and he performed welding services for the City.


         In the proceedings before the district court, Mills and Chartier moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court, however, denied qualified immunity to the defendants, holding, without explanation, that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Mitchell and his comparators were sufficiently comparable. See ...

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